In 1994, Rwanda, a small East African country experienced one of the bloodiest genocide in modern African history. This incidence which occurred within approximately 100 days due to tribal conflict claimed 500,000 to 1 million lives (about 20% of the Rwandan population). Its been over 2 decades and the country has found a way to heal and restore its land with sanity, economic growth and environmental cleanliness. Though much of Rwanda is generally clean, Kigali, the country’s capital is commonly regarded as Africa’s cleanest city.
The Cleanest City in Africa
Kigali never made the list of world cleanest cities (Mercer Global Financial list) but still earned a reputation for its methods of enforcing cleanliness. Unlike other relatively clean countries like Singapore, Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, seems to have achieved a litter-free and clean environment without the threat of harsh fines.
According to Julie Mutoni, country manager of DHL Express in Rwanda, this cleaning fosters unity among Rwandans. “Everyone, including the President, partakes in cleaning the city, and cleaning day has helped Rwanda recover from genocide and civil war in multiple ways by creating a sense of purpose and togetherness amongst the people.”
According to The Guardian , the city’s roundabouts are so well-swept and the grass so well-maintained that wedding couples sprint across the traffic to be photographed in the middle of them.
Umuganda & The History of Communal Cleanliness
In Rwanda, Umuganda is a traditional practice dating back to the pre-colonial period during which community members gathered for a common purpose such as attending a community court to deal with a case. The activity has economic and social impacts. Umuganda was encouraged as a way of bolstering civic responsibility. In the years before the 1994 genocide, President Juvénal Habyarimana emphasised it as part of his concept of “true” Rwandan identity.
After taking office in 2000, President Paul Kagame made good use of Umuganda to help clean up his gun and shell-strewn capital while simultaneously promoting the idea of a cohesive national identity . President Kagame formalised Umuganda as a collective event on the last Saturday in each month when traffic is stopped for three hours in the morning, and the city comes together to tidy up.
The mayor of Kigali is now introducing cleanliness and hygiene awareness lessons into primary schools, taking his cue from President Kagame’s assertion that Kigali does not need international aid & assistance to keep its backyards clean. The group of women who are paid relatively little to clean and tender to weed consider their jobs more of a patriotic duty.
According to The Guardian Théodosia Vuganeza of the Ikondera Women’s Cleaning Cooperative says
“When foreign people come to this city and later return to their countries exclaiming about our city’s cleanliness, that itself motivates me to keep doing my work even better”.
President Kagame who was recently cleared to run for presidency, a third time (first time in the country’s history) is known for his toughness but still the citizens of Kigali enjoy no penalties for dropping litter around. It simply doesn’t happen. The people take great pride in the belief that their city is “cleaner than New York and London”.